Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — There has been a recurring theme coming out of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s camp over the past two days, and it is that Clint Dempsey’s lightning-fast goal versus Ghana was definitely a blessing but also somewhat of a curse.
Make no mistake about it, the Americans are more than thrilled Dempsey scored 30 seconds into their 2-1 win on Monday. But they also believe that the sixth-fastest goal in World Cup history played a key part in seeing them struggle to get on the front foot against a Ghana team that held possession for large stretches over the course of the 90 minutes at Arena das Dunas.
“I think it’s a little bit funny, the way you think about it, the fact that we scored so early on, obviously it’s great to get things started,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya on Tuesday. “But at the same time it kind of messes up your game plan because you have sort of a natural tendency when you’re up a goal to (say), ‘Okay, you’re up 1-0. Let’s try and protect this lead.’
“It sort of messes up with you how we wanted to high press or keep the intensity, high tempo up. It sounds weird, funny to say that that goal affected that, but there’s definitely things we need to work on offensively, combine better and just get in better positions.”
Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard echoed those sentiments hours earlier in Natal.
“When I was at Everton, we scored early in a cup final and your natural human nature is, once you score goals, to drop back because you don’t have to get a goal,” said Howard. “You have it, so the urgency isn’t there and that can be dangerous.”
While the U.S. would undoubtedly prefer to be up a goal than down one at the start of a match, it knows it needs to have a better response to the eventual waves of attacks that will come its way. After all, it’s only natural for trailing teams to try and take the game to their opponents in search of an equalizer.
What hurt the Americans and where they surprisingly failed for large parts on Monday’s game was in keeping possession. Too many times did they stymie a Ghana foray before cheaply giving it back with a weakly-weighted or ill-advised pass.
The U.S. knows that it needs to improve drastically in that regard if it wishes to have a chance of beating a Portugal side that is in desperate need of points and goals after suffering an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Germany. If that fails, maybe being more direct and lumping the ball forward is an approach that Klinsmann considers.
“We tried so much to play out of our back,” said midfielder Graham Zusi. “I think at times we can put the ball in their end and go up and pressure them as well, so I think that’s a thing we can improve on, but just also protecting the ball more. I think we gave it away a bit too easily, but a lot times that’s what it’s like in the first game of a tournament like this.”
Taking a more direct approach would go against what Klinsmann has tried to build over his three years in charge of the U.S. program and would be tough to execute successfully given Jozy Altidore’s likely absence. But being able to have that weapon in the arsenal could help the Americans, especially if they find themselves facing an onslaught of attacks and struggling to connect passes.
Six days separate the U.S.’s first two group games, but Klinsmann decided late on Tuesday to give his team the day off on Wednesday. The preparations for Portugal will resume on Thursday, and there is admittedly plenty to work on for Klinsmann and company.
“We said it (Monday night) after the game that there were certainly things that we need to improve, certainly things that went not as well as we wanted it,” said Klinsmann. “But that gives us even more hope going into Portugal because we know that we didn’t play to the best of our capabilities but we still won this game. Now, we’re going to go to Manaus and if we kind of go to the best level that we can play, then its’ going to be difficult for Portugal.”
Think the early lead accounts for some of the USMNT’s struggles on Monday? Expecting better possession and combination play now that first-game jitters are out of the way? Will a day of rest help the team come out sharp and fresh on Sunday?
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